Free Markets, Free People

Out with the old, in with the new

Print and broadcast journalists aren’t at all happy with the direction of or future of journalism according to a Pew poll. The decline stated with the internet boom and hasn’t let up.  Most print and broadcast editors think that without a new revenue stream (traditional advertising isn’t what it used to be by any stretch of the imagination) their employer will go out of business 5 to 10 years.

Almost all of them blame the internet for their problems. For instance:

In an era of shrinking newsrooms, 58 percent of the editors said journalism was headed in the wrong direction. Sixty-two percent said the Internet had changed the profession’s fundamental values, with most citing a loosening of standards.

Someone – anyone – how did the internet make them “loosen” their “standards”?  Note the word used is “make”, not “cause”.  “Make” has a completely different connotation than does “cause”.  And yes, I’m in the weeds on semantics, but it is important.  If, in fact, those 62% actually said (or believe) “the internet made me do it”, then you have found the reason “journalism”, as we know it today, is in decline and it has nothing to do with the internet whatsoever.

Remember the “three layers of editors” comment years ago that was thrown out there as a reason journalists were better than the pajama-clad blogging hoards?  Remember how that’s been thrown back in the face of the MSM countless times since?

The editors complain about being unable to find a way to charge their on-line readers as one of their problems.  Of course, the unknown there is whether present on-line readers deem their free stuff worth paying for.  My sneaking suspicion is they know they don’t.  There’s nothing particularly unique to be had on their site (exceptions being newspapers focused on local communities) that can’t be found for free elsewhere.  That’s the real dilemma – what can they offer that is unique and sought after in terms of information, that the public is willing to pay to access?

To this day, most have said “not much”.

So what are we seeing here?  We’re seeing the buggy whip industry go out of business.  We’re seeing the creative destruction for which capitalism is so famous.  News is beginning to be delivered in a way that has fundamentally changed that industry.  What used to be the exclusive realm of the news providers (with source subscriptions which were prohibitively high for most independent subscribers) has now found its way into the realm of news consumers.   I can read AP just as well on the net as I can in a newspaper.  There is no reason for me to subscribe to the paper to read what I can on-line.  So the local paper is no longer my first choice to read the news AP provides.

This is no different than what cable news has done to network news.  For decades, TV news was delivered by appointment.  That is, you had to make time at 6pm or so to sit down and watch was presented or you’d miss out on what was happening in the news.   Along comes CNN and appointment news is dead.  Now, when you’re ready, you can sit down and catch up on what’s happening in the world.  The appointment TV business model was essentially dead (although it still doesn’t seem to know that, even as its rating numbers seem to confirm it).

But even with cable TV, we were only apprised of what they deemed newsworthy.  If they chose not to run it, it wasn’t news.  Along comes the internet, and that breaks up their journalistic monopoly of steering the news agenda.  Now, as we’ve seen a number of times, stories the media buries are surfaced and given visibility that eventually forces those known as the MSM to pay attention and cover them.  That screws with both their agenda and their credibility.

As for opinion journalism, the net has also broken that monopoly up as well.  There are literally millions of opinions available now with the democratization of publishing the net offers through blogs.  And as many have found, you don’t have to be a journo grad to write well or have a worthwhile opinion.  So now, instead of having a limited number of opinions available, we have more than we could ever read.

So while the old media laments its decline and most likely it’s eventual demise, let’s remember there’s a new media out there in the midst of founding and forming itself.  Some smart person will eventually put the business model together that works and makes a good profit.  This isn’t about the news media going silent, that will never happen.  It is about the break up of virtual monopolies of news delivery because of technology.  When the old media enjoyed those semi-monopolies (they were really very high bars to entry into the market) what they delivered was worth the money they charged.  Now, because the same thing can be found for free thanks to technology, their product doesn’t have the same worth and is losing its subscriber base.

I’m reminded of the Gutenberg bible.  Ironically it’s a legend in the printing industry because through the invention of the printing press, which enabled the printing of hundreds of copies of the bible, the monopoly of the clergy as the sole possessors of “the word” was broken – as was their power as the sole interpreters.

This is exactly the same process in action now.  The MSM needs to realize that the “old days” are dead and are never coming back – ever.  And they had better realize that instead of  thinking of themselves as a news broadcast or a newspaper, they need to understand that they have to be in the business of providing news that is unique and valuable (valuable enough consumers will pay for it) or they’ll go the way of those buggy whip companies I mentioned earlier.



20 Responses to Out with the old, in with the new

  • I think that any time that an industry undergoes such a significant shift, you will get this situation- some people embrace the changes and try to find ways to adapt and capitalize, others will fight as hard as they can to retain the status quo.  I think that what we’re heading towards is a whole new way to report and deliver news and information.  There are going to be growing pains, and there will be setbacks.  But in the long run, this system (or one built upon it) is the future of news media.
    The complaints about a lack of professionalism and lower standards are, IMO, legitimate.  But it’s amusing to see the ‘old media’ showing that concern.  The ‘new media’ got a boost every time they caught a network or publication with its pants down, and I think it happened often enough (Rathergate being the most notable, but not by far the only example) to stigmatize the mainstream press while legitimatizing the internet-based alternatives.  The attempts to denigrate the new media simply made the mainstream press seem both elitist and out-of-touch.  I believe that it was Stephen A Smith who opined that one should have a journalism degree in order to be allowed to blog.
    I think that there are some pretty rough times ahead.  But it’s also very exciting to watch it develop and grow.

  • It seems like they completely misunderstand their own business.  They were never really in the “delivering news” business because, if I understand it correctly, their actual sales were never the principal driver of revenue.  This is particularly true for subscriptions.

    However, they are in the business of aggregating an audience and selling advertising.  If they refuse to understand this and:

    -continue to try put up paywalls and other impediments to access to their content to keep “freeloaders” out, and
    -continue to drive away substantial portions of their readers through shoddy reporting (such as the previously mentioned RatherGate, completely missing ClimateGate, completing ignoring the details of health care reform, etc . . .) and bias in reporting and condescension toward their readers,

    they are actively undermining their own business and their actual customers, the advertisers who are paying for access to the readers.

    In addition, one thing that the Internet has actually done to traditional news is to completely expose journalists for their lack of knowledge and sophistication.  It is now quite easy to fact check, debunk or “Fiske” an article.  Also, how often have you read a news article in an area in which you are somewhat knowledgeable?  How often have you thought to yourself, “this writer has no idea what he’s talking about”?  It happens all of the time for me, and with the Internet it is not just possible, but easy, to show that journalists are not experts and often have little knowledge, or even comprehension, about what they write.

  • “And they had better realize that instead of  thinking of themselves as a news broadcast or a newspaper, they need to understand that they have to be in the business of providing news that is unique and valuable (valuable enough consumers will pay for it) or they’ll go the way of those buggy whip companies I mentioned earlier get bailed out by the Obama Administration.”

    I saw you forgot option three, so I took the liberty of adding it.  Sorry for the  “old link,” but I just grabbed the first available.  There’s newer stuff out there.

  • The strikrthrough of “go the way of those buggy whip companies I mentioned earlier” was ther in preview, but didn’t make it into the actual comment.

  • This is one of those things, whenever I hear about the woes of the Dinosaur media, I am filled with such schadenfreude.  HA HA HA Screw em, I hope they all go bankrupt and have to get real jobs.

  • Let us not forget the impact of CSPAN on the credibility of the MSM. The internet merely finished the job and made facts and reality more convenient and accessible.

  • All valid points.
    But you shouldn’t forget, that the vast majority of blogs, including those that employ their own investigative journalists, remain standing around the well waiting for someone else to hoist up a bucket of water.
    You’re not only looking a gift horse in the mouth, you’re laughing at it as it is sent off to the glue factory.  And when it’s gone, who is going to pull the plow?
    Who, exactly?

    • Valid point – perhaps from the civilian versions of Michael Yon. If investigative journalism has a value, then investigative journalism will find a market, no? But news reporting – anyone can do that now, to include me.

      • …perhaps from the civilian versions of Michael Yon.
        Hey, Michael Yon is a great guy, but he can’t be everywhere.  And remember when bloggers decided to send a “civilian” to use your word (journalists aren’t civilians?) to the ME to do some reporting?  PajamaMedia sent whats-his-face Joe The Plumber.  How’d that work out?
        … investigative journalism has a value, then investigative journalism will find a market, no?
        True, but they would need a heavy business model.  Simply taking the flavor of the day and strapping a pocket-clad photojournalist jacket and a coach ticket to the ME does not a journalist make.  The traditional media outlets that you so despise, have spent decades building up contacts and other multiple means of trade to get the goods to market.
        One can’t just show up and expect to fill the void.  That would simply be naive.  A fantasy.
        You need deep, deep pockets.  Not to mention a talented staff with the experience to coordinate every aspect involved.  And I don’t see anything that remotely resembles that on the horizon.  Not from bloggers.
        FoxNews broke into it, sure.  But they had media mogul Murdoch.  Who’s going to step up like that?  Erick Erickson?  Jonah Goldberg?  Markos Moulitsas?
        But news reporting – anyone can do that now, to include me.
        Well, you do have an uncanny knack at picking pepper from gnat sh!t – and I sincerely mean that as a compliment – but until the White House Press Secretary decides to hold their daily briefing outside of Turner Field, I fail to see how your talents could be utilized on the national stage.

        • I’m not suggesting there’d be one, Pogue – you are a literal SOB, aren’t you? I’m suggesting a number of “Michael Yons” would fill the role.

          And speaking of Yon, he’s proven the model that says you don’t have to have “deep, deep pockets” to do what he does.

          As for my talents and the national stage, there’s no crying need for that right now – AP, Reuters and AFP are still pumping out stories. When and if they were to stop doing that, the market for news certainly wouldn’t dry up because of it, would it? My point is I don’t need the NYT to get those stories anymore or ABC’s World News Tonight to read them to me, do I? They’re the one’s in the most trouble – not AP, Reuters or AFP.

    • The blogosphere does investigative journalism already – just mainly about the MSM. For example, they caught Dan Rather, right?
      I suspect there could easily be a bottom up way to do investigative journalism, especially about politics as partisans have an incentive to do this. Maybe there are examples already? Perhaps the tea party rally video investigated and checked by the bloggers while the MSM just ran the press release from the Dem congressmen is a good example.

  • Journalism is not hard. Although some of the circumstance in which the reporting is done are very difficult (Iraq, Afghanistan, Chicago).

    There will be an oversupply of reporters.

    Maybe the exeptional independent ones, like Michael Yon and the great Edward Jay Epstein, will become the models for a future network of reporters who redefine the business.

    We don’t have worries, for instance, that “the big law firms are in decline, where will we get our lawyering.”

    The New York Times, if and when it goes down, won’t leave a void as great as the one it leaves by publishing every day.

  • ddbb[H]ow often have you read a news article in an area in which you are somewhat knowledgeable?  How often have you thought to yourself, “this writer has no idea what he’s talking about”?

    This suggests a new model for the news media: something like Wikipedia and other “community” or “public” websites.  One thing that irritates many people with MiniTru is the pompous assertion that one must be a “journalist” (a graduate of a j-school) to report the news.  While there are journalists who are knowledgable, many know nothing more about the subject of their report than what they learned while writing the story.  What they don’t realize – or can’t bring themselves to accept – is that there are experts who are a click away.

    News reporting is also constrained by the idea that the news must fit in a certain space or time.  With the internet, space becomes almost unlimited: there’s plenty of room in an on-line news site to cover – in great depth and detail – any and every story that might interest readers in a given day.  I would certainly be interested in reading and might even pay for access to a news site that I was confident was giving me the full story, written and reported by actual experts.  Mine explosion?  Story by mining engineers, safety engineers, miners, etc.  Nuclear disarmament?  Story by diplomats, military officers, intelligence experts, etc.

    Pogue Mahone[T]he vast majority of blogs, including those that employ their own investigative journalists, remain standing around the well waiting for someone else to hoist up a bucket of water.

    This is a good point.  Blogging, except for the relative handful of bloggers who have the wherewithal to do original reporting, does rely on somebody else to do the heavy digging.  There is a definite need for “reporters”, but there’s a need to reform how they do their job.

  • They got into the profession to change the world. Now, way too late, they’re finding that most of the world doesn’t want to be changed, at least not by arrogant, ignorant elitists.

  • First, it was “cable news” that affected the newspapers.  Then it was the internet.
    I suspect at least one “cable news” organization will cease operations in the next two years.

  • I would suggest that Media as a whole is in the midst of a change (permanent I am thinking) where the days of having top heavy conglomerates with high salaries and benefits is over. It is commoditization of a product that was once able to demand a premium. The people currently in charge of these industries are unwilling to accept that you can still make a living in these endeavors; it is just unlikely that you will be able to make a fortune (at least anytime soon).

  • I submit the process has been going on for years;

    From Wikipedia;
    “In journalism, a stringer is a type of freelance journalist or photographer who contributes reports or photos to a news organization on an on-going basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work.”

    Since I have all those hundreds of television channels to choose from, I have no shortage of  (non-American) television news programs to watch, most of whom have far more extensive coverage of world events than the US media. Particularly video coverage. BBC even does a fair job, even if a bit biased, of covering US domestic news.

    In short, I do not think the ‘decline’ of US news organizations is going to cause any lack of information availability.